Depression in Winter Months: Coping Tips

With every happy emotion about the stunning fall colors, comfy sweatshirt weather and fun outdoor activities is a corresponding bittersweet reaction to less sunlight, colder temperatures and the onset of winter.

Amber Olson, LCSW, a regional director with Memorial Behavioral Health Clinical Operations notes that for many people, seasonal depression can start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping energy and leaving people feeling moody.

“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression with a seasonal component and if you experience it, your personal experience can be fairly predictable in onset and duration from year to year,” Olson said. “This type of depression may be triggered by your biological clock or circadian rhythm reacting to decreased sunlight exposure during fall and winter months.”

Other culprits may include drops in serotonin levels and melatonin levels during the fall and winter months that trigger depression, mood changes and sleep changes. Of course, some people can experience seasonal mood changes and patterns during summer or spring, but fall and winter occurrences seem to be much more common. Those affected typically exhibit mild symptoms that don’t interfere with their quality of life. However, some experience more severe depression during this time.

If you struggle with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, consider these ideas to help manage your mood during the fall and winter months.

  • Light exposure. Being outside, going for walks, using light boxes or dawn stimulators can help regulate your body’s response to the seasonal changes. Short walks in nature can improve mood, among other benefits for body and mind.
  • Plan social activities to avoid isolation. Often putting events on your calendar that you really look forward to — things like dinner parties, festivals or holiday markets — can help force you to leave the house. Anticipation can boost your mood as much as the actual event.
  • Be mindful of your thoughts. The way we feel is linked to how we think about the situation we are in. Are most of your thoughts negative? Challenge your thinking.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices. Eat healthy foods, schedule daily exercise, soak up that Vitamin D and enjoy regular meals to help boost energy levels. Resist urges to isolate, overindulge in sweets and carbs, and become sedentary.

If you struggle with anxiety or depression that becomes severe, and you find it is interfering with your work, relationships or other important areas of your life, it’s important to reach out. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, rather it is a sign of strength to know that you need to do so.

Memorial Behavioral Health offers a variety of emotional support and counseling options. Call 217-525-1064 to schedule an appointment.

Related Articles

Mental Health Crisis: Outpatient Help or Emergency Department?
Five Simple Self-Care Tips to Live By
How You Can Use Distraction as a Tool to Cope